La Shaguita: To begin, what exactly does Locutorreando mean?
Erika: Locutor or Locutora is a person that is a radio personality or someone who shares information through the waves and cotorreando is a term used to describe usually two women or two femme folks talking to each other in their homes or just speaking with each other. Cotorreando is also seen sometimes as a negative thing. When two women talk sometimes society - especially a patriarchal society - says that they must be up to no good or they're just kind of shooting the shit and not getting anything done, right? So we wanted to take cotorreando, which is actually spaces where women in our community get together to find community within each other and then take Locutora to take [that] community to the waves.
La Shaguita: Oh, I like that, nice! So, you two live in a region of Texas known as the Valley. What are some things that make the Valley a special place to live?
Erika: [In some ways, the Valley is] a very liberating space, in the sense that we're a mesh of two cultures - of Mexico and Texas. I feel like there's not a lot of other places that get my identity as a Tejana. But then we also have checkpoint which confines a lot of people, because we’re defined a lot by the immigration laws of this country. So I would explain the Valley as a very beautiful conundrum.
La Shaguita: How about you, Sam?
Sam: I think Erika really summed it up, but I think that will makes the Rio Grande Valley really beautiful is that even though there's all of these barriers and ... confining issues, people find some sort of way to be resilient. And I think that a lot of youth and the majority of people that grew up here carry that with them as they grow older in the work that they do. Everybody has this sense of pride.
La Shaguita: What are some specific issues that queer people are facing in the Valley right now?
Sam: The environment for LGBTQ people who are documented in the United States is already difficult - in terms of having to navigate a society that is homophobic and transphobic, and then living in an area that is very largely Catholic. And as someone who identifies as culturally Catholic, I'm not saying that’s initially a bad thing, but for the majority of society having that culture of Catholicism also plays into this very heavy homophobia and transphobia that we see. So, as someone who is extremely prideful of where I come from in the Rio Grande Valley, there's also a lot of things that need to be addressed such as homophobia and transphobia, anti-blackness ... that we also have to work through.
La Shaguita: Sam just mentioned a lot of important issues that they discuss with Erika in their podcast Locutorreando. Let's start with anti-blackness. Less than 1% of the population of Hidalgo county is African-American. But there's important activism going on in support of the African-American community, including a local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In fact, in a recent episode of their podcast Erica and Sam discuss a trend in the Valley and elsewhere in which words that are sometimes used within the African-American community end up being used by people outside of that community - sometimes in ways that are culturally appropriating or inappropriate. They discuss this topic with the activist Aimaloghi Eromosele, who explains the use of African-American vernacular English in the Valley and in the United States as a whole. You can listen to their discussion with Aimaloghi here.
Another issue that Sam mentioned in the Valley is Catholicism. According to recent polls, just over 50% of the population in the Hidalgo County is religious, and about 36% of the population identifies as Catholic.
The church is embedded into local culture and identity in many ways, even though this can get a little bit complicated, including for queer people. Here's what Sam has to say about being culturally Catholic:
Sam: I can talk to a lot of values and attributes that I have because I grew up Catholic. I believe that humility is a virtue, that it's a beautiful thing that I wish more people would adhere to. I'm someone who believes in a lot in compassion, in serving, and I do believe that those are Catholic teachings. But of course, I don't adhere to hate or any sort of twisting of scriptures to oppress other people. [So when I refer to] growing up Catholic and being culturally Catholic, I refer to participating in a lot of Catholic holidays we have here in the Valley. I refer to [the fact that] I still pray, and my God may not be the same as another person who might sit next to me at a pew.
La Shaguita: Sam also works with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Every month they hold conversations in colonias - which are communities usually in the suburbs with high poverty rates and dilapidated homes that often lack basic services. These communities have grown a lot since they were first created in the 1950s. They're home to many recent immigrants and their families. With the National Latina Institute, Sam is part of a team that organizes committees in the colonias to talk about different themes affecting the community. During Pride Month last summer, Sam spoke to colonia residents about the need for safe spaces for LGBTQ people. After one of the meetings, someone came up to her and said:
Sam: “How do you identify someone that is attracted to men but is also attracted to women who dress as men?” And I [said], “you can't identify other people. Other people have to identify themselves and then we respect that identity.” [Then she said] “Well, it's me” And I was like, I’m gonna cry. And she [said], “I’ve never said this to anyone before ... this is the first time that I am actually accepting these feelings that I have for this other person.”
And I told her ... you might want to have a conversation with this person. And there are different terms that you might find some sort of comfort in - there's bisexual or pansexual, depending on how you feel. And she felt very overwhelmed and happy that she was able to have that conversation with me.
That instance alone is so important ... people are starting to understand that we don't live in this box that society says that we have to live in, but in these big beautiful spectrums that they can also be a part of.
La Shaguita: It's beautiful to see that despite the challenges of these troubling times, people like Erika and Sam are working to support their community against threats that arise both internally and externally. I was curious to know how it felt for them when the external threat known as Donald Trump first began to spew verbal vomit about their home region - the border.
Erika: Honestly, there was a minority of people who are voting for Trump. But, the Valley has been one of the places that’s been blue. And, as far as the law - as far as citizens, everybody was anti-wall. Because we know that the border exists, but people have business on both sides of the border, people travel on both sides of the border - if you can. And we already have a wall here, there's been a wall since Bush was in office. So, it was really funny hearing all this discussion of “oh, we're gonna build a wall” [because] people here were like - “There already is one.”
Sam: [I] remember the night that ... the decision was made that Trump would become president of the United States. We somehow [had all gotten] together – the folks from Aqui Estamos but also we are just best friends ... And we were like hmm, I guess we’ll watch the election, no big deal ... I don't know where our heads were – we weren’t expecting - I wasn't expecting what happened to happen, though I shouldn't have been surprised. I think we do live in an extremely racist country and so I shouldn't have been as surprised as I think I was.
That same night, we organized an entire event just minutes after the results, we ... decided we would just organize something really quick and the next day we had an action outside of the McAllen City Hall where we had about over 100 folks show up, in that fast of time - to show that they were upset. And we had different organizations there to talk about how they're already doing a lot of this work ... those organizations that have already been doing this work came out, so that people who were just barely coming out of the shadows being upset over Trump’s win can now get also in contact with these people who have been pushing up against those margins.
La Shaguita: The border. La frontera. It's been beautiful to witness the strength of community and culture in this area of Texas. I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have. You can listen to the full episode with Erika and Sam here.